An International World XI will take on a Pakistan All Stars side led by Shahid Afridi. -Photo by AFP

KARACHI: International cricket of a sort returns to Pakistan this weekend for the first time since the Sri Lanka team were attacked in 2009, but a resumption of tours by overseas sides remains a distant prospect.

An International World XI captained by Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jayasuriya and featuring several former South African and West Indian Test players will take on a Pakistan All Stars side led by Shahid Afridi in two Twenty 20s in Karachi on Saturday and Sunday.

It is the first time top foreign cricket players are in Pakistan since a deadly attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in March 2009, which prompted overseas sides to stop touring the cricket-mad but troubled country.

After a three-and-a-half year drought, enthusiasm for this weekend's games is high, with fans snapping up tickets and players talking up the short tour, a personal initiative of the sports minister of Sindh province Mohammad Ali Shah.

“I took it as a challenge,” Shah, himself a club-level cricketer, told AFP.

“I don't claim it will instantly revive international cricket in Pakistan but I am sure that these matches will change views on our country.”

The Lahore attack, which left eight Pakistanis dead and seven of the Sri Lankan contingent injured, turned the Pakistan team into cricket nomads, forced to play “home” series at neutral venues in England, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

While security in much of Pakistan has improved since 2009, bombings and shootings are a near-daily occurrence as the country battles homegrown Taliban, and the chance of any high-profile tours looks very distant.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) almost convinced Bangladesh to tour in April this year, only to have their hopes dashed by the Dhaka High Court, which blocked the tour on security grounds.

Ehsan Mani, the former president of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport's governing body, hailed this weekend's matches as a step on the way to normalising Pakistan's position.

“This is a commendable effort,” Mani told AFP. “The visiting team has some well known players and I am sure when they return they will tell people about Pakistan and it could prove a small step in a long process.”

But the PCB has done its best to keep this weekend's matches at arm's length, terming them “unofficial” and insisting it bears no responsibility for security, fearful that any breach would set back the rehabilitation process.

Indeed, since the Bangladesh humiliation the PCB has been very reluctant to say anything about its efforts to persuade overseas sides to visit, leading many to wonder if they are making any efforts at all in this direction.

Mani criticised the PCB for its apparent lack of a clear strategy.

“I don't think they have gone about reviving cricket in a normal way,” he said. “It seems they are making efforts on an ad-hoc basis and not getting involved in these matches in a big way. It is disappointing.”

PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf said luring international teams back to Pakistan was not easy, but insisted the board was taking measures to restore confidence.

“We have planned to build a huge stadium (in Islamabad) along with a hotel within the premises that will allow surveillance with heavy security and teams will be carried from the airport to the stadium with the help of helicopters,” he said.

Jayasuriya, 43, the big-hitting opening batsman who helped Sri Lanka to their historic World Cup win in 1996, was optimistic as he arrived in Karachi on Thursday.

“I am happy to be part of these matches,” Jayasuriya told reporters. “It depends on country to country (whether they tour Pakistan) but in my opinion Pakistan is a safe country.”

West Indian double World Cup-winning batsman Alvin Kallicharran, who is coaching the international side, was similarly bullish.

“I think they (other countries) will have to have a look,” he said. “With the success of these matches there will go a good message.

“Pakistan is a part of world cricket and we are here to show that Pakistan is a place to play cricket.”

It is encouraging that players such as Jayasuriya, and South Africa's Andre Nel and Nantie Hayward, are willing to come, and a successful weekend will undoubtedly send out a positive message about the country as a cricket destination.

But the top names on the International World XI team sheet are all players at least five years past their peak. Bringing a high-profile team such as England or Australia, would be a very different prospect.

While minnows such as Bangladesh balk at visiting, it is hard to see how bigger name teams will be persuaded.

Whatever the long-term chances, for now Pakistan's tens of millions of cricket nuts are just delighted to have a couple of games on their doorstep.

“It will surely be fun,” said Usman Siddiqui, looking for tickets. “At least we have some cricket on our grounds, which have been completely unused. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, we will have big teams some day.”

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Comments are closed.

Comments (20)

October 19, 2012 8:56 am
October 19, 2012 12:27 pm
Who are coming? You pay some ex-players to come to your country for a fun. Is this international cricket? What a joke!
October 19, 2012 4:24 pm
These matches will help bring spectators to the stadiums and not international cricket (which I think is still useful as my 7 yr old is dying to go to a cricket stadium and watch Afridi..). International cricket teams would not arrive until we get a handle on our law and order situation. Creating a mega-stadium in Islamabad unfortunately looks like a money-making exercise for some people.
Waseem Sarwar
October 19, 2012 10:46 am
Well ICC won't allow these matches either, all they can do is to shout on team names, bla bla. It is never on ICC agenda to help Pakistan in any regard, they are busy in praising BCCI's financial might. The wise thing ICC can do is to help Pakistan coz teams playing and a possible PPL will help ICC generate revenue more than BBL,SPL, BPL......
October 20, 2012 4:52 am
ICC is Behaving like step mother to PCB. Every thing is possible when ICC would be ready to help PCB. Moreover BCB is playing a dirty role in this matter.
Khurram Sher
October 19, 2012 5:39 pm
Might I ask what was the fate of the "terrorists" who attacked the Sri Lankan team in broad daylight? How many of them were apprehended? What was the action taken? Was any one made responsible for the lapse? or for the lack of response? Till the time we in Pakistan try to find the answers to these questions, no one in his right senses will think of coming to Pakistan, what to talk of playing cricket.
October 20, 2012 6:45 am
Instead of criticizing, we should help and support the organizers for successful completion of these matches. ICC came immediately in picture by not allowing the name of WorldXI to be used but where are they when Indian financed so called champions league title is in use wrongly with teams rated till four in indian league are playing in this league .. excellent joke by the ICC :) I pray these matches be gone smoothly and inshaAllah international cricket will return soon in our country..
Stop BSing
October 19, 2012 2:44 pm
Seriously, People doing thumbs down on this post? Haters of Pakistan.
October 21, 2012 6:43 am
It does not matter who are coming, appreciate their courage that they come to your country which is infested by Taliban, ethnic groups and religious mind set. Hats off to these players.
October 21, 2012 2:32 am
This says it all... “We have planned to build a huge stadium (in Islamabad) along with a hotel within the premises that will allow surveillance with heavy security and teams will be carried from the airport to the stadium with the help of helicopters,” he said.
October 19, 2012 1:46 pm
We welcome and thank the visiting foreign cricketers. I hope PCB and the governments of Pakistan and Sri Lanka work together to arrange T20 games in Karachi and Lahore between their two national sides. That would not only strengthen ties between two friends but also be a strong statement to the extremist criminals bent on destroying peace and prosperity in Pakistan.
October 19, 2012 9:02 am
ICC will not responsible if any incident took place. these matches r only authorized by the sports ministry of Pakistan. ICC has not given the clearance of these matches.
Akil Akhtar
October 21, 2012 12:02 am
do you have only hate in you.....
October 20, 2012 8:02 am
a wake up call for Pakistan to revive this gentlemen game. Pakistanis should question themselves are they gentle enough to receive these gentlemen?
October 20, 2012 7:09 pm
The crowd response was really tremendous. However, so long as serious steps are not taken to curb terrorism and lawlessness, no foreign team is likely to tour Pakistan. Thanks o all the foreign cricketers who are playing these matches
October 20, 2012 5:59 pm
I apologize! this is no gentlemen game anymore. Boat load of money, IPL parties, cheerleaders, alcohol, drugs, fixing, slaps, you name it and you are calling it a gentlemen game. Players are foregoing their national duties to enjoy the money and the T20 circus. In this global situation Pakistan is as safe as any other place in India or Sri Lanka. These parts of the world anything could happen to any body, anytime, and you know it.
A. Salma
October 20, 2012 4:09 pm
“We have planned to build a huge stadium (in Islamabad) along with a hotel within the premises that will allow surveillance with heavy security and teams will be carried from the airport to the stadium with the help of helicopters,” he said. Here is an idea just build the stadium and hotel on the you dont need helicopters to bring the players to the stadium!
Goodness Grace Me
October 19, 2012 4:56 pm
This definitely is a positive step towards bringing international cricket to Pakistan but stop blaming ICC. As for as you make the teams feel safe, they certainly would return to Pakistan. Sri Lanka tried helping by accepting to fill-in India's cancelled tour in 2009 and look what happened to them? I agree that because of few crooks that play the spoil spot, the whole country should not be betrayed by not playing locally but on the other hand, the safety of the players take the precedence over the entertainment and revenue. The Idea of building a stadium attached with a hotel is certainly a good idea and a positive seller to lure the playing countries to come back to Pakistan. Good luck with that.
October 19, 2012 2:40 pm
Seriously guys? Do you really wanna risk another incident by playing home games and then completely shut Pakistan out of International Cricket for decades? It is a few years too early for Pakistan to be playing International Cricket .. Just look at the incidents that have occurred in the last two years, the military and government installations that have been attacked in MAJOR cities .. if the military and govt isnt safe then what makes you think the visiting cricket teams will be safe? Stop day dreaming, zameen par utarnay ka time aa gaya hai ..
Muhammad Waqas
October 19, 2012 5:35 pm
dear Mr. Truth at least you have to appreciate the players who are coming here in these circumstances in which no body even think to come.... Think before you leap
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